Union Violence Hits Tipping Point

Member Group : Lincoln Institute


How would you like to be able to stalk someone? Or perhaps harass them? Maybe even threaten to use a weapon of mass destruction against them?

And how would you like to do that legally?

It’s simple. Just get involved in a labor dispute and all such actions are perfectly legal. In fact, those tactics have been used regularly by labor unions right here in Penn’s Woods.

It seems though that one union has been collared by the feds for going too far. Ten members of the Ironworkers Union Local 401 in Philadelphia were indicted recently for, among other things, vandalizing a Quaker meetinghouse that was under construction.

Yes, those Quakers; the religion that preaches non-violence.

Meanwhile, back in Harrisburg, legislation that would eliminate the so-called carve-outs in state law that permit stalking, harassment, and threats of mass destruction awaits action. It is cued up and ready for a vote in the state House, but for some reason has yet to hit the floor for a vote.

This should be an easy vote for lawmakers. In the post-911 era who can justify allowing anyone to legally threaten to use a weapon of mass destruction? Well, aside from one prominent labor leader who appeared before the House Judiciary Committee to offer a half-hearted defense of the carve-outs. His justification was that business supports and uses the carve-outs as much as organized labor. However, a poll of business owners and chief executive officers conducted last Fall by the Lincoln Institute of Public Opinion Research found 84% opposed the carve-outs. Just 3% voiced approval.

Among voters statewide there is strong support for the legislation to end the carve-outs. A Lincoln Institute poll conducted in November found 83% support the bill, 16% oppose. While it is somewhat disconcerting that 16% of Pennsylvanians would support allowing anybody to legally stalk, harass, or threaten to use a weapon of mass destruction, any legislative proposal that achieves the support of over 80% of voters would seem to be an easy vote for lawmakers to cast.

A culture of threats and violence has long been part and parcel of the labor scene among the construction trades in the Philadelphia region for generations. It is evidence of the influence these unions have in Harrisburg that they were able to get carve-outs allowing psychological tactics included in state law. More amazing is that the loopholes have not yet been closed.

Even when union tactics advanced past threats to action law enforcement and prosecutors in the Philadelphia region have long turned a blind eye. Finally, however, at least one union over-stepped its bounds. The indictment against ten leaders of Ironworkers Local 401 alleges the existence of a "goon squad" that among other tactics set fires, took crowbars to those who stood in their way and incited riots. All under the cover of getting more work for their members.

The vandalism and threats against the contractor at the Quaker meetinghouse in Chestnut Hill seems to have been the tipping point. The indictment claims Ironworkers Local 401 business agent Edward Sweeney ordered the hit on the work site. And this apparently was not an isolated incident. The union’s operatives nicknamed themselves "THUGS," short for The Helpful Union Guys, but actually quite descriptive of their activities.

The egregious nature of such actions is, however, only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to union privilege in Pennsylvania. Also making its way through the General Assembly is a bill that would end the practice of having government deduct union dues and political contributions from the paychecks of their public sector members. Since Pennsylvania is not a Right to Work state, certain public employees are required to join a labor union as a condition of employment. Then, union dues and in some cases political contributions are deducted from their paychecks.

Pennsylvania’s jails are populated by former lawmakers who used government resources for political purposes. Yet labor unions have their dues collected at public expense, then turn around and use those dollars to elect candidates and lobby legislators to protect and enhance the many unique privileges they enjoy under state law.

With the Ironworkers Local 401 leaders under indictment and strong public support for ending at least the indefensible carve-outs allowing stalking, harassment, and threats of mass destruction you would think such action would top the legislative agenda. We’ll soon see if the Republican-controlled legislature gets the job done.

(Lowman S. Henry is Chairman & CEO of the Lincoln Institute and host of the weekly Lincoln Radio Journal. His e-mail address is [email protected].)

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